Wednesday 7 October 2020 – UNICEF Australia welcomes last night’s federal budget, recognizing that it builds on unprecedented social spending by the Australian government in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, while calling for increased ambition to ensure the development and wellbeing of children and young people in Australia.
“We must continue to invest in our children as part of the recovery and long term sustainability of our pandemic-ravaged economy,” says Tony Stuart, CEO of UNICEF Australia, “Vulnerable and disadvantaged children across Australia are not getting a fair chance, and we must work to prevent inequality gaps widening in the coming months and years.”
To this end, Mr Stuart said the budget had missed an opportunity to invest more heavily in early childhood development and build upon the important emergency response measures the government had introduced during the pandemic, which effectively prevented the sector from collapsing.
He noted that cost-benefit analysis by Price Waterhouse Coopers has shown[i] the provision of 15 hours of early childhood education in the year-before-school would result in a return of $4.74 billion in benefits to the economy by way of parental workforce participation, educational attainment and future lifetime earnings, higher taxes paid to government and reduced social expenditure on unemployment, health and justice systems costs.
“Investing in affordable early childhood education and care, particularly for disadvantaged families, is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes good economic sense,” Mr Stuart said.
While the budget did not introduce these refinements, UNICEF Australia remains committed to continuing to work with government on ways it can make a material difference to the lives of children in low income and disadvantaged families, by focusing its efforts on ensuring that every Australian child has a fair chance.
UNICEF Australia welcomes the government’s recognition of sustainable employment options for Australia’s youth as a budget priority. Mr Stuart said he hoped that wage subsidies for apprentices and incentives for businesses hiring young people would translate into ongoing opportunities and work pathways. However, he recognized that a broader, more multi-faceted approach to youth employment was needed to effectively turbocharge our economic recovery.
UNICEF Australia has consulted widely with children and young people about mental health service provision. Mr Stuart welcomed the budget’s increased investment in mental health, though noted the need for more flexible and diverse support options. “Engaging children and young people in the design and delivery of mental health services will be critical to ensuring we meet their needs and expectations,” he said.
Finally, Mr Stuart highlighted the need for the government to safeguard its levels of investment in children despite challenging economic conditions.
“Though the effects of this pandemic on children have been mostly indirect, they are at risk of becoming invisible victims. Our concern remains that children will bear the brunt of the pandemic for years to come – and that vulnerable children will increasingly be left behind if we are not careful.”
[i] Price Waterhouse Coopers